An Introduction to Dr Matteo Icardi; Assistant Professor in Applied Mathematics (Fluid Dynamics)

Unlike my colleagues at GERC it took me some time to write this introduction, in order to have a better idea of what to expect in this new exciting adventure and our new home Nottingham. You could say it is also because I am Italian and Italians have their own (supposedly “slow”) pace. But, actually, I am from northern Italy, more precisely the royal and elegant city of Torino (Turin), the first capital city of the Italian Republic. We surely cannot be defined as slow people, despite being known as the “bugia nen” (those who “do not move” in the local language); apparently this is actually because Piedmontese soldiers were known for not running away from the enemy in battle. Apart from unifying Italy under the kingdom of the Savoy family our city is famous for many innovations in science, culture, and gastronomy. Forget cars (I’m not sure I would give a positive impression if I said that FIAT has totally shaped the economic structure and cultural soul of the city), let me focus on important things here…football and food: our glorious football team Torino (Grande Torino, one of the best teams of all times), Gianduja chocolate (i.e., perfect mix of chocolate and hazelnuts that later the Ferrero family used for its famous Nutella spread), coffee (Lavazza), breadsticks (grissini torinesi), truffles, world-famous wines (e.g., Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera), liquors (e.g., Vermouth, Genepy), and many great beef dishes (Vitel tonné, Brasato), just to name a few. Next time you visit Italy don’t waste time shopping in Milan or fighting with hordes of tourists in Venice. After skiing on the Alps and drinking some good wine in the beautiful Piedmont countryside, go and enjoy the great culture and food in Torino, and do not forget to ask for Bagna càuda, a bicerin and fill your bag with gianduiotti.

A picturesque view of Torino, surrounded by its crown of Alps,
with its Mole Antonelliana (on the left) and Monte dei Cappuccini (on the right)

Well, now you can see how much I am still connected to and passionate about my hometown and its gorgeous Piedmont region, although it has now been five years since I left it to live and pursue an academic career abroad. Luckily I have always been followed by my lovely wife and a growing family, which now sees three amazing little kids joyously occupying most of our free time.

My scientific career has been always torn between the passion for technology and innovation (my “engineering” soul) and the need of a deeper understanding and abstraction (my “mathematical” soul). Luckily when I started university in Turin I had the possibility to attend an unusual undergraduate course in Mathematics for Engineering, followed by a Master in Mathematical Engineering. During my university studies, I did a few internships and specialised in Computational Fluid Dynamics, and its connection with numerical analysis and multiphase flow modelling.

I then started a PhD in Chemical Engineering, fascinated by the idea of studying and simulating real complex flow problems and the sophisticated mathematical models to describe chemical reactors. After being awarded the PhD, I joined the group of Groundwater Engineering as a postdoc to work on pore-scale fluid dynamics models. After these experiences in Engineering, I ended up with the clear feeling that there were still too many conceptual open problems in these areas, and too often empiricism and lack of rigour in solving problems. I then felt again attracted by a deeper mathematical approach and thanks to an exciting offer from KAUST and UT Austin, I started my journey back towards Mathematics.

Examples of virtually generated porous materials, used for my numerical simulation and upscaling studies.
Left: grain packing. Right: Iso-surfaces of one realisation of a Gaussian Random Field

I spent three fantastic years between Saudi Arabia and Texas where, despite the heat, I learned to deal with complex modelling problems (in particular related to multiphase flows in porous media) with a “refreshing” approach, based on more rigorous notions of numerical approximations, model calibration and validation, and in particular uncertainty quantification. During these years I got to know many important scientists in the field of Applied Mathematics and Porous Media and continued to be involved in several industrial projects.

Eigenfunction of the diffusion operator in a complex geometry,
 to understand polarisation effects in battery solid electrodes.
 The spectral properties of PDEs can be used to derive reduced
 order models
Quite surprisingly, considering my “impure” mathematical background, I was then offered a Warwick Zeeman Lectureship at the Warwick Mathematics Institute, where I met and collaborated with great mathematicians. I started working on multiscale and model reduction methods for a wide range of continuum and discrete models, such as porous electrode theory for rechargeable batteries, anomalous dispersion in porous media, and molecular dynamics. The “call” from Nottingham and GERC could not have come at a better time to allow me and my family to permanently settle in the UK, and complete my “scientific journey” between Engineering and Mathematics with this joint appointment.

In these first two months here in Nottingham I already found new collaborators, great colleagues and friends, and I could experience the great attitude towards interdisciplinarity at GERC and the university as a whole. Thanks to the great support of the GERC team, and the School of Mathematical Sciences, we have already worked together on two collaborative proposals to enrich the GERC network with new contacts in Europe and South America. I am looking forward to establishing new stable links between Mathematics and Engineering and helping to shape GERC’s future interdisciplinary and international vision.

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